For Whom the Bell Tolls, Part II

Two people I know, or knew, have died in less than a week. There’s a saying that these things tend to happen in threes, so I’m almost afraid to breathe right now. If that’s true, there’s one more to go…

On Saturday, I found out my cousin, Jimmy Clark, had been killed to death. He had been hit by a car while crossing the street in Rapid City, SD. He was 64 years old.

But getting hit by a car? Cancer, I get that. Heart attack or a stroke, I’d understand those. Getting hit by a car, in Rapid City? That just seems to be the most unlikely way a person can get dead.

I guess they knew what they were talking about when they told us to look both ways before we crossed the street when we were kids.

Jimmy had a great sense of humor. I’m sure he’d see the irony in that if he were still alive to talk about it. And then he’d laugh. He had just about the greatest laugh of anyone I’ve ever known.

Jimmy’s family lived in Wall, SD. It’s arguably the most famous town in the US with a population of less than one thousand people. And its’ notoriety has everything to do with an advertising gimmick, and one small pharmacy.

Is there anyone who hasn’t heard of Wall Drug?

Wall Drug hasn’t always been world famous, but it started becoming famous because of a billboard sign campaign advertising free ice water to tourists heading to Mount Rushmore. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I think it was Jimmy who told me there were two kinds of people in Wall. Tourists, and people who hate tourists.

The once humble pharmacy is now a tourist magnet drawing in a couple of million people a year. The drug store has become a mall that includes a cowboy department store, an art museum and a chapel, I think. It’s been a while since I’ve been there. In fact, I’m not sure there’s even a drug store there anymore.

Wall is pretty much in the middle of fucking nowhere, South Dakota. It’s on the edge of the Badlands, and if there was ever an apt name for a terrain, that’s a good one.

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, I just saved a couple of dozen paragraphs trying to describe the Badlands. It’s a wild land that has been shaped by wind and water for centuries. Not much of anything grows there, meaning not much of anything can live there. And that’s where my family would go every year or two when my dad wanted to see his sister.

When we were kids, we’d play King of the Hill in the Badlands with our cousins while our parents sat around the kitchen table drinking a lots of highballs, smoking cigarettes, and laughing their asses off. The hell with Disneyland®. When I was a kid, Wall, SD was the happiest place on Earth.

I was always sad when we had to leave Wall and head back to wherever we were living. And once I grew up, I lost contact with my cousins. Its probably been over thirty years since the last time I saw Jimmy. Maybe longer.

Vaya con Dios, primo. The world will be a sadder place without you. With your passing, I think I become the oldest male on the paternal side of our family. Another reason I’m afraid to breathe. I might be next.

* * * *

The other person I knew was one of my virtual friends. We had never met in person, and now, we never will.

Mercedes was young. And pretty. She was from Canadia. Facebook suggested I send her a friend request, and she accepted. I liked her posts. She seemed to have a lots of energy, and she posted a lots of photos of herself smiling as she traveled around the Great White North. She had a pretty smile.

One of her posts was different from all her other posts. No pictures. No smiles. She stated she was fighting a battle against depression. She said she was okay. She had a lots of friends and family, and was taking antidepressants. She was going to be okay. She just needed some prayers and support.

That was about a month ago, maybe two. I told her I would say a prayer for her, and I offered my services, such as I could. After that, her posts always showed her smiling, apparently having a great time and enjoying her life.

Someone who probably knew her in person posted an update about her for all of her virtual friends today. She was found dead yesterday from an apparent overdose. She was 23.

* * * *

It’s hard to end on a high note when you’re writing about a topic like unto this. Death will come for us all, soon or late. But twenty-three is too goddamn young to die, and it’s even worse when the cause of death is suicide.

Please, think twice before you chose that as a final option. There is help available. All you have to do is ask. I know it’s hard, but do it anyway. It’s only by doing the hard things that you can truly grow.

And look both ways when you cross the street.

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